In April of this year the International TED Conference awarded Dr Raj Panjabi $1,000,000 to realise his dream of bringing healthcare to areas of the world where medical attention is difficult to find.
Dr Panjabi works at Harvard Medical School where he has developed The Last Mile Health, a nonprofit that works to train health workers to deliver treatment in areas that are difficult to reach.
But why is this so important?
People in rural areas in different parts of the world often have difficulty in accessing any healthcare at all. These people often need to journey over great distances to seek treatment and along the way there can be many obstacles such as rivers and forests, amongst others. Often when they get to the medical facility patients will find that there are few supplies and inadequate medical knowledge amongst the staff.
These are amongst the reasons that Dr Panjabi, from Liberia, decided to focus his energies on the residents of some of the most poorly served places in the world. He was appalled that there were only 50 doctors in Liberia to treat a population of 4 million and that these doctors couldn’t get to some of the remotest parts. Consequently people in his homeland were dying from diseases that could have been treated by modern medicine.
Now with the $1 million prize from the TED conference Dr Panjabi is keen to roll out his project to some of the remotest rural communities in the world. Panjabi is keen to point out that this is an issue faced by remote communities all over the world, not just Liberia. He says: “So, if there are a billion people on the planet who live in these remote communities, how do we solve that issue? The idea is that help for these communities might not come from places we expect. It may not come from the outside – it may actually come from within.”
The model used for Dr Panjabi’s project in Liberia is to train local people to be paid health workers rather than rely on volunteers. The money he has received will be used to invest in a Community Health Academy. This will train and equip existing health care workers with basic skills to carry out more advanced treatments.
Upon accepting the award he said that “people are not defined by the conditions we face no matter how hopeless they seem, we’re defined by how we respond to them… I’ve seen the power of this idea to transform ordinary citizens into community health workers, into every day heroes.”
With the sharp reduction in funds being allocated by some countries to invest in foreign medical care Dr Panjabi’s initiative is timely and forward thinking. He has already been listed by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world and has received praise from former US president, Bill Clinton.
In a tribute to Dr Panjabi, Bill Clinton wrote: “To spend time with Raj Panjabi is to see up close what happens when someone with uncommon courage and compassion puts himself on the front lines of the world’s most complex challenges.”
Dr Panjabi is keen to keep progressing and create a global system that will see health care workers carry out up to 30 different life-saving skills using tools and/or medication from a single backpack. He has a goal of saving 30 million lives by 2030 and will be using the latest technology available to achieve this worthy aim.